Lampedusa: No to boat-people, yes to plane-people

Lampedusa: No to boat-people, yes to plane-people

François Dufour*
In the last year, around half of the migrants crossing the Mediterranean were asylum seekers. The other half was made up of economic migrants searching for jobs. For them, it’s another story that I won’t address here.

According to the UNHCR, in 2015 two in every three migrants have been asylum seekers coming principally from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria. As a result, one in every two migrants on those death-boats has the right to come to Europe. More importantly, Europe has a duty to protect them. The 1951 Geneva Convention protects any “person owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Europe also protects (this principle is called “subsidiary” or “temporary” protection) those who would be at serious risk if they decide to return to their home country.

Here’s the problem: As long as they have not received refugee or protected person status - or at the very least an asylum visa - they cannot present themselves at airport check-in counters. This despite the fact that a flight would be less expensive and infinitely less risky, as demonstrated by the very convincing video made by demographer Hans Rosling (available on YouTube).

The common sense solution is to grant them refugee or protected person status in situ.

A first option: A UNHCR center in Tripoli or elsewhere on the African coast. With the power to grant refugee/protected person status, on behalf of European countries.

A second option: A European Union embassy, with the same power, in a few safe countries (which have flights to at least one European country): Algeria? Tunisia? Morocco? Sudan? Djibouti? Kenya? Lebanon? Countries that are safer than the ones from which the “boat-people” are fleeing: Erithrea, Syria (for half of them in 2015), Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq.

All this must be accomplished with great expediency, as demanded by this emergency situation. Bear in mind that very few future refugees are currently requesting an asylum visa - for example from a French consulate in Africa - that authorizes them to seek asylum or protection in France, especially as the French Agency for Refugees (OFPRA) can take between three months to two years to resolve application requests.

Both options (via the UNHCR or via a European embassy) then require the repartition of the total number of refugees amongst the 28 EU countries.

Three main criteria could be used: Population and wealth (GNP per inhabitant) and, of course, the foreign languages spoken by the refugees.

Another advantage of this “on the spot” solution: It reduces the large number of rejected asylum seekers in Europe who stay on illegally (around three out of four) and who live in poverty.

For the past 10 years I have interviewed African youths, both boys and girls, on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

During their journey, theoretically “from the African inferno to the European Eldorado,” they have all been robbed, assaulted, exploited, some of them tortured, others raped. This is without even mentioning all those who have drowned. After hearing their stories, I always say to myself: In their shoes, I too I would have fled toward the Mediterranean.

*François Dufour is the editor and cofounder of the only daily newspaper for children in France.